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IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 313: Heresy and the Vernacular, II: The Anglo-Norman Frontier and the Matter of Britain

Monday 13 July 2009, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Liz Herbert McAvoy, Department of English Language & Literature, Swansea University
Paper 313-aThe Hermit's Contradiction: Heresy in the Grail Procession
(Language: English)
Melanie Hackney, Department of French Studies, Louisiana State University
Index terms: Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Liturgy
Paper 313-bHeretical Arthur: Providence, Fate, and Vernacular Composition
(Language: English)
James R. Simpson, Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, University of Glasgow
Index terms: Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Language and Literature - Latin

The papers in this session deal with problems raised by vernacular literatures, whether in post-conquest Britain or the Britain of Arthurian tradition.

Paper -a:
This paper explores Gnostic and Cathar attributes in Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval : Le conte du graal. While past scholarship has categorized the work as principally Christian, I argue that this misconception results from authors such as Robert de Boron, who adapted Chrétien's grail to make it an intricate part of the Christian story. The hermit's explanation, occurring approximately 1500 lines after the narrative stops treating Perceval, offers clear contradictions in describing the grail procession as the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In addition to showing narrative events that conflict with Church doctrine, I will demonstrate the heretical nature of the text.

Paper -b:
This paper explores the fluctuating social values of English versus Anglo-Norman in post-Conquest England in order to articulate the relationship between language and heresy. Using specific examples from Middle English literature, including education tracts, sermons, conduct manuals, and verse and prose fiction, the paper identifies various moments of lingual heresies: those literary moments where speaking or writing in one particular language instead of another is akin to heresy against a nation or heresy against God. The constant medieval English debate between Anglo-Norman, Latin, and English in 13th and 14th Century England offers an expanded definition of 'heresy', proving that attempts to create a sense of nationhood are inextricable from a desire to identify a national language and a national religion.

Paper -c:
As T.H. White comments, 'Camelot was a city built to music, therefore a city never built at all'. The proposed paper aims to revisit early anxiety regarding the veracity or fictionality of the Arthurian legend through an exploration of the connection between the emergent vernacular tradition and conflicts in the reception of antique and early Christian sources, notably Lucan and Boethius, as part of a quasi-heretical 'music' of historical pattern reasserting itself in 12th century literature and historiography. Here Arthurian texts articulate a view of cosmological pattern that quite probably flirts with the whiff of heresy some commentators identified in Boethius's presentation of fortune. Another key echo in this view of the Arthurian tradition is its modulated reprise of Lucanian / Stoic commentary on the nature of history, a view notably reproved by Augustine. This then positions Chrétien's perceived 'secularity' in the context of the innovatory political and historical cultures of the Angevin and Champenois courts as self-consciously bordering on the heretical.